If you were ever to drive down to Pudding Colony, the first things you’ll notice is how the houses were built a bit too close for comfort and had windows a bit too large to contain what was cooking inside. Even then, the beautiful cozy bungalows and the lush lawns, and the low prices (don’t let anyone know I told you so) would quietly talk you into moving into the neighborhood. And this is the reason, I never had to bat my eyelids twice in the twenty years of my life spent there before a “For Rent” sign would disappear before the next dawn.
I still remember the warm evening when a family of twelve moved into the bungalow right adjacent to mine. I waved a cheerful hello to my neighbor, Mrs Roshni Cheema, when I saw her moving in the big boxes all by herself. I wondered why she didn’t employ any help when I saw four young children, four toddlers and two little twins constantly swallowing up her time. I also secretly hoped to land a look on her husband who I imagined must be so mighty charming that it resulted in this woman having a basket brimming with apples, apples of their eye.
I was, however, in for a disappointment when I didn’t see him for one full month during which I became a daily visitor at their home.
“Why Roshni,” I said to Mrs Cheema one June morning, “you must be pretty excited.”
She answered with raised eyebrows.
“Ain’t your hubby returning home tonight?” I said as a matter of fact, masking my own excitement from the anticipation of meeting Mr. Handsome Husband the next day.
“Of course, of course,” she said as she spoon fed carrot soup to the twins.
“You don’t sound like you are.” Experience had taught me not to mince words while in Pudding colony if you craved for the creamy stories.
“Oh, but I am,” Mrs Cheema gave me a reassuring smile which resembled Madhuri Dixit’s a lot, and yet seemed be borne out of some fear . “It is just that Mr. Cheema goes on such long business trips…. often for more than a yearlong…. it gets me nervous.”
I gave a lot of thought to what she had said but couldn’t cook up a satisfactory explanation in my mind. So, of course I sat by my window with some pop corns for the show that night.
“How could you do this to me?” said Mrs. Cheema in a voice which sounded crushed.
“Was there any way out?” I heard his voice for the first time.
“Every time, after each trip…. I didn’t ask a single question…” She said between muffled sobs. “You could have at least told me once.”
“I thought that will just hurt you some more.”
With those words, they had moved to some other window where some other neighbor might be eavesdropping and chomping away salsa and chips perhaps.
The next morning, I bathed and dressed in a rush. “Oh, he just left for office” is what I didn’t want to hear Mrs Cheema utter when I went to deliver my warm home-baked cookies which I bought last night.
A ruckus outside lent a feeling that I was late somehow. I staggered when I peeped outside the window and saw a gathering of policemen and neighbors outside Mrs Cheema’s house.
“What happened?” I murmured as I pushed my way through the crowd. Did Mrs Cheema murder her husband? Or did the husband murder his wife who had such a lovely smile? God forbid, did the children do something? I’m so ashamed to say but my years at Pudding colony had made me a cynical by breath.
I finally reached the forefront and saw a man, who must be Mr. Cheema, being carried away on a stretcher. Thank goodness, the lady of the house was alive.
“What happened?” I repeated in an attempt to claim the scoop and put my arms around Mrs. Cheema who was now sitting on the porch with a child, barely two months old, squealing in her lap.
Through her hysterical sobs, I heard what she had to reveal.
“In last fifteen years of marriage, Mr Cheema has always been away on long business trips. He never had time for me. Never. And to top this, whenever he had the audacity to bring a so-called adopted child after he sojourned abroad for long, I accepted the child in our family without as much as raised eyebrows.”
“So, Nanu is….” I gaped.
“A gift from Europe, he had told,” she replied.
“And Kanu is?”
“A blessing from Japan, he had beamed.”
“A memento from Vegas project, he had cooed.”
“And Chinmin is?”
“A souvenir from Mexico, he so cherished.”
“The toddlers …?”
“Were a result from his Switzerland trips.”
“And the twins?”
“His token from Zambia.”
“And now this little one is…” I felt sorry for the women who had suffered enough infidelity for one life.
“His trophy from Egypt, he had said last night.”
“Well, he is a nice human being, at least,” I said, fumbling for something consoling to say, “after all, he takes care of all the children born to him.”
“Yes, that’s what I had thought, until I caught a text on his phone last night.”
Her shock surprised me. What was left to discover after ten reminders of his love, which lay somewhere else of course?
“Oh! My dearest Mr. Cheema is gay,” she broke down in a flood of tears.
“Then how did he manage to bring these ten little gifts after each trip?”
“He collected from orphanages where I had dropped mine.”